by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved
The film was Captain Scarface, a 1953 independent movie from an outfit called Lincoln Productions which I had thought, more because of the second word in the title than anything else, would turn out to be a gangster movie evoking the spirit of the 1920’s. Wrong! It turned out to be a maritime melodrama with a ridiculously convoluted script that made almost no sense — and most of the actors affected dreadful accents which made the already unfathomable movie totally unintelligible as well. The film begins with a sudden attack on a freight ship called the S.S. Banos (one gets the impression that whoever named the ship “Bathrooms” ensured it deserved all the bad luck it got!), which is blown to smithereens, following which we see a crew being assembled for a ship called — you guessed it — S.S. Banos. According to the commentary on imdb.com, we were supposed to believe that sinister forces had destroyed the first Banos and were passing this new ship off as the original Banos for some sinister purpose, but I didn’t get that — I naïvely assumed, based on the common run of movie clichés, that the film was going to end with the Banos blowing up, that the opening was a “teaser” shot and the subsequent shot of an intact Banos heralded a flashback.
Barton MacLane is top-billed (which will give you an impression of just how cheap this movie is!), playing the titular “Captain Scarface” (though his face doesn’t look particularly scarred and his real name, if any, we never learn). He’s awaiting a sailor named Clegg (Paul Brinegar) who’s supposed to be delivering a sinister package on board (according to the imdb.com synopsis it’s an atomic bomb, but if that was made apparent in the film itself, I must have nodded off while that was being explained), but unbeknownst to Scarface, Clegg has been murdered by another sailor, Sam (Leif Erickson), who takes his place and knows nothing about the Great Whatzit he’s supposed to be sneaking on board. There’s also a scientist named Yeager (a particularly repulsive presence named Rudolph Anders) and his daughter Elsa (Virginia Grey), who gets on board more to give Leif Erickson a love interest than anything else. These people spend 65 minutes or so chasing each other around the decks of the fake Banos, nothing much happens and, as I once read a critic say about another film, it doesn’t end — it just stops. What a bore!
Here’s hoping some of the other “Captain” movies I recently downloaded from archive.org — including one called Captain Calamity which is a color movie from Grand National in 1936 (the pluckiest indie of the 1930’s not only bagged James Cagney for two films when he’d won a lawsuit freeing him from Warners — only Warners won him back on appeal — but shot a full-length color movie at a time when most of the majors still feared to tread the path of color and Technicolor chair John Hay Whitney had to bankroll his own studio to get some movies made in the three-strip process) — are better.